“To Be Weak Is Miserable” is the chapter heading that begins and totally summarizes this remarkable, fantastically-imagined literary-revisionist version of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Supposedly born to nobility but cast adrift when her mother dies and her father is imprisoned, young Elizabeth Lavenza finds herself precariously (and barely) surviving under the hateful watchfulness of a caregiver until the Frankenstein family takes her in as a friend for and watchful playmate of their son Victor. Suddenly Elizabeth is living in luxury and provided all the accoutrements of society because of her new association with the Frankenstein family. She is, however, made clearly aware that she is an employee and not in any sense a family member. All she must do to maintain her new position is to be a constant and moderating influence on Victor, a troubled, erratic, brilliant young man who already is hiding dark secrets, as is his family. Never forgetting that she is just a step away from abandonment and wretchedness should she fail this assignment, Elizabeth masterfully hones her role by learning the skills of artifice, subterfuge and dissembling.
As Victor ages and goes off to school for advanced studies, Elizabeth worries that her job may soon be coming to an end, leaving her once again with no resources for survival. How she sets about to remedy this leads her to horrific revelations about Victor and some eye-opening revelations about his father but also to liberating facts about her own family.
This being a Frankenstein book, you can imagine the amount of violence and gore found in it, though it is limited to what is essential to convey the depths of horror and degradation into which Victor has fallen. I flagged a couple of words like “damn,” but language is in no way an issue in this book. The writing is exquisite. The themes of social stratification, authenticity of self as restricted by economics, the nature of evil as it relates (or not) to mental illness, nature versus nurture, the power balance between men and women, and the true nature of friendship make this book useful for classroom discussion.
Categories: Books We Recommend, Books with No Objectionable Content, Crime, Death and Grieving, Dysfunctional Relationships, Fantasy, Grief, Mental Health, Science, Science Fiction, Supernatural/Occult, Violence